The MLS season motors on through what is sort of an international break weekend. Some teams are missing players, others aren’t.
At this point in the season, let’s rank the teams who look like the best contenders to take home MLS Cup.
It’s generally been a rocky season for LAFC. Carlos Vela has barely played, and remains injured with an MCL issue. Eduard Atuesta has also been out, perhaps an even bigger loss due to Atuesta’s defensive contributions and passing instincts from midfield. They’ve also had trouble replacing Walker Zimmerman in central defense.
Recently, though, they’ve turned it around a bit. Atuesta started for the first time since July in a 6-0 win over the Whitecaps, and last week, they won 3-1 over Real Salt Lake. A weird 2-1 loss to the Earthquakes (San Jose alternates between quality wins and absolutely terrible losses) is sandwiched between those two wins, but LA have stabilized, and retain their general talent advantage.
Diego Rossi is one of the league’s best players. Atuesta is a star. Playing Latif Blessing at right back has helped the backline, with veteran Jordan Harvey at times shifting into central defense alongside Eddie Segura. If Vela returns at some point for the playoffs, LA are big contenders.
4. Columbus Crew
The Crew have fallen off a bit in recent games, hurting their chance at running away with the Supporters’ Shield. After a ridiculous defensive start, Columbus have taken just one point from their last three games, conceding at least twice all three times. They’re third in the Eastern Conference now.
Injuries have hurt, with playmaker Lucas Zelarayan and goalkeeper Eloy Room getting subbed off in a rollercoaster 2-2 draw last week. But they’re still a team to be reckoned with thanks to their dominant defense. Gyasi Zardes has also continued to be a prolific goal-scorer.
3. Portland Timbers
As chaotic as the Timbers have been at times this season, they are hard to bet against in the Western Conference. After an up-and-down run of form, they’ve won four straight games to vault up to second in the West. They beat down on the bad version of the Quakes 6-1, then beat Seattle and Vancouver, and picked up a 6-3 barnburner of a win over the LA Galaxy on Wednesday.
They’re getting production from multiple sources in attack. Jeremy Ebobisse has been a consistent, refined scorer from the wing, a nice addition to No. 9 Felipe Mora and midfielders Yimmi Chara and Diego Valeri. They are managed well by Giovani Savarese. If they can avoid the defensive weakness they’ve shown at times, they can prove themselves as the second-best team in the West.
2. Toronto FC
As usual, TFC have started to pick it up in the stretch run. They’ve been fantastic over the past few weeks, taking over the Supporters’ Shield lead from the Crew. Since an inexplicable 3-2 loss to Vancouver on September 5, they have five wins and a draw. They’ve beaten good teams in that run: 3-1 over the Crew, 3-1 over Philadelphia, and 1-0 over NYCFC and the Revolution.
Alejandro Pozuelo has been the undeniable star. He has seven goals and nine assists in 16 regular season games, playing 90 minutes pretty much every week and orchestrating everything for TFC’s attack. They’ve also continued to get production out of Ayo Akinola, who has eight goals in eight starts this year. TFC are a veteran team, and have seen some injury troubles with their core guys (Jozy Altidore, as always, Michael Bradley, Justin Morrow, Auro), but they have the depth to overcome it.
1. Seattle Sounders
Seattle are four points back of TFC in the Shield race (with a game in hand), but they should be considered the favorites to come out with the MLS Cup trophy again. They’ve looked like the most complete team in the league over the past few weeks, with consistent results since the league resumed outside the bubble.
Aside from two losses to Portland, they haven’t lost since July. (They also have a 3-0 win over the Timbers.) Jordan Morris is an MVP candidate, pouring in goals from the wing and passing like he’s never passed before. Nicolas Lodeiro is still the engine, and the double-pivot of Joao Paulo and Gustav Svensson isn’t easy to beat. Raul Ruidiaz is guaranteed to score playoff goals. Seattle are on track to make this a dynasty.
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